Sometimes, if nothing else is working, bringing in a new coach and some fresh ideas can be just what the doctor ordered. All too often these days football clubs jump to this last resort a little too quickly though…
Sir Alex Ferguson, probably the most successful manager ever, has just celebrated his 25th anniversary in charge of Manchester United.
He has been on the bench for over 1,400 matches, and, despite a difficult start at the club, things clicked into place in his fourth season when United won the FA Cup in 1990.
Three years later, his seventh as manager, United finally won the league and, in his quarter of a century at the helm to-date, 37 trophies have been won – including 12 Premier League titles.
Now, of course, Sir Alex is a freak and it would be ridiculous to compare the fate of 99% of the world’s other managers with him.
However, his record and the patience with which he was treated in his early days at United do raise an interesting question: was he given time because those in charge sensed success, or did the achievements come about because he was given time?
Football has changed in many ways since Sir Alex took the reins at a struggling United in 1986. The increasing effect of money on the sport and the consequent – and ridiculous – expectations of sponsors and supporters mean that it would be very difficult to display such loyalty in the modern era.
However, constantly chopping and changing the guy in charge does not mean you will enjoy success, as two of the J.League’s biggest clubs have recently demonstrated.
Urawa Reds have struggled since they won the Asian Champions League in 2007. This has been by far their worst season in recent years, and they had little choice but to fire Zeljko Petrovic after their former player led them into the heart of the relegation battle (and particularly after he announced to the media his decision to quit at the end of the season before informing his bosses).
That does mean they have had four head coaches in as many years since they became kings of the continent though, and you can’t help but wonder how much better off they’d have been if they’d given one of their German coaches another season or two to build a team.
A more bizarre example is provided by JEF United who, the day after Petrovic was sacked, announced that their coach Dwight Lodeweges was also on his way.
At the time, despite having lost two games in a row, JEF were just three points away from a place in J1.
They may have been disappointed not to be more certain of a return to the top-flight, but even before the season had started Dwight had told me that promotion to J1 was not being taken for granted.
“I do want promotion, absolutely. I’ve got no idea how real that is, I mean, can we?” he said. “I’m more or less busy with putting a foundation underneath this team and building from there. I’m not really looking at J1, I’m looking at how do I get the team better. And if that is enough to get promotion, yeah, beautiful. If not, maybe it’ll take another year.”
He also touched upon the club’s fall from grace prior to his arrival, suggesting that perhaps those in the front office had not made the best decisions.
“You’ve got to wonder, you’ve got to analyse what has happened there. Not from me because I wasn’t here in the past, but I think if you’re the club.”
Those at the top may have been far from enthralled with the style of football, but to replace him with technical director Sugao Kanbe at such a crucial point of the season was bewildering. And it didn’t work.
The three games they played after giving Lodeweges the boot yielded just two points and one goal, effectively condemning JEF to the second division for a third straight season.
In an earlier column on promotion from J2 I quoted Dwight who had said, “It’s not just a name that brings you back or does well or keeps you in J1. We have to do the right things.” Never has that seemed a more fitting observation.
Both Reds and JEF, with their trigger-happy approaches to recruitment, should provide a lesson to other aspiring clubs.
While it is important to keep things fresh and avoid stagnation, consistency is often key. Sometimes change is not for the best.